Program Notes

Tank and the Bangas with the LPO

January 14th, 2022

New Orleans’ own Grammy-nominated Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, and Spoken Word band, Tank and the Bangas are back in the Orpheum to create a musical experience along with the full orchestra that is not to be missed! 

Conductor

Nicholas Hersh

Featured Artists

Tank and the Bangas with special appearance by PJ Morton

LPO Musicians

Guest Artist Bios

Tank and the Bangas

Coming from New Orleans, Tank and the Bangas are surrounded by plenty of grand musical traditions. And the five-piece group has a rare knack for combining various musical styles—fiery soul, deft hip-hop, deep-groove R&B, and subtle jazz—into one dazzling, cohesive whole that evokes the scope of New Orleans music while retaining a distinctive feel all its own. 

“It’s music that can’t really be put in a box,” says singer and poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball. She fronts the  band with vivid charisma that helped Tank and the Bangas win NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Concert  Contest by unanimous acclaim, standing out among 6,000 entrants because of what Bob Boilen  called “the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players.” Those same qualities also attracted the attention of Verve Records, which has signed the band. 

Ball’s lyrical depth has been years in the making. She came up in the strong local slam poetry scene before meeting her band-mates: Merell Burkett on keyboards, Joshua Johnson on drums, Norman  Spence on bass and synth keys, and, eventually, Albert Allenback on alto sax and flute. “Growing up, I always could sing, but I wrote better than I sang, so I focused on writing,” she says. After her team won the National Poetry Slam Championship two years in a row, Ball turned her full attention to Tank and the Bangas. 

What started as a loose collaboration at an open-mic night in 2011 has grown into a mesmerizing musical force that’s only picking up speed. After a featured set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage  Festival early in the band’s career, the musicians built a reputation outside their hometown by 

grinding it out on the road, honing their live show, and releasing the 2013 album Think Tank, all the while converting audiences into passionate fans and garnering critical acclaim, from the New  Orleans Advocate to The New York Times. “It made us work hard,” Ball says of playing Jazz Fest. “It  made us want to feel deserving of it.” 

Their hard work is paying off: The Huffington Post says Tank and the Bangas defy description  onstage, adding, “It’s music that you have to experience.” The experience is subject to change from one night to the next. 

“One show will feel very electronic, or hip-hop, and another show will feel slow and vibe-y and jazzy, and then another show will just be poetry and off-the-cuff riffs,” says Johnson. “As a band, we don’t  like to hear ourselves do the same thing for too long, so we might change a small thing here or there, and if we change enough small things, it seems like a big change.” 

Tank and the Bangas won the Tiny Desk contest with “Quick,” a riotous single they released in 2017  (and soon accompanied with a cheeky, not entirely safe-for-work video). There’s more new music where that came from as the group works on the follow-up to Think Tank. “It’s going to be awesome,” Ball says. “It’s going to be fun, and a little vulnerable at the same time.” 

The band’s ongoing evolution involves more than just music: Ball continues to grow and develop as a performer and writer. Even back in the open-mic days, she was a force of nature. “I don’t know if there’s such a thing as too free, but it was totally uninhibited. She was inspired,” Spence says, laughing at the memory. More recently, Ball has become less of a dervish onstage—“I was running around so much I didn’t have time to sing at all,” she say—while finding new ways of expressing herself as a writer.  

“I don’t just think about myself when I write now,” she says. “Just being with my band-mates taught me to think more about other people. And when you have an audience of people ready to listen to  you, you’re excited to connect with them, you really are.”! 

PJ Morton

PJ Morton is a multi Grammy-winning R&B and soul singer, songwriter, performer and producer whose latest project, Gospel According to PJ, earned the 2021 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album. The New York Times says the New Orleans native “runs the influences of Allen Toussaint and Stevie Wonder through a bevy ideas from R&B’s more recent decades,” and since the breakthrough of his 2017 LP Gumbo he’s led a creative and critically-acclaimed streak of six self-released and self-produced albums, ten Grammy nominations and back-to-back-to-back wins, his first-ever NAACP Image Award and Soul Train nominations, BET Award nominations, appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, TODAY Show, MSNBC, CNN, Inside the NBA, NPR’s Tiny Desk, COLORS, The Super Bowl Halftime Show, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and more.

On top of his remarkable resume, which includes running his own record label, working as Maroon 5’s full-time keyboardist, serving as Solange’s former music director, and collaborating with the likes of Erykah Badu, JoJo, Kirk Franklin, Lil Wayne, Rapsody, Stevie Wonder, Tyler Perry, Yebba and dozens of others, Morton is a staunch community advocate in New Orleans.

He is currently backing initiatives for local Black-owned banks, leading a campaign to restore the home of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, and serving as Dillard University’s first-ever artist-in-residence. In 2020, he launched his own weekly, live-streamed trivia show The Culture, celebrating Black art and entertainment with contestants like Angela Rye, Bakari Sellers, Jill Scott, Lalah Hathaway, Miguel, Omari Hardwick and Questlove.

Nicholas Hersh

Over a remarkable tenure as Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, Nicholas Hersh earned critical acclaim for his innovative programming and natural ability to connect with musicians and audiences alike. Nicholas created the BSO Pulse series, through which he brought together indie bands and orchestral musicians in unique collaborations; he led the BSO in several subscription weeks, and concerts in and around Baltimore; and he directed the BSO’s educational and family programming, including the celebrated Academy for adult amateur musicians. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicholas developed and conducted the BSO’s new digital concert series, BSO Sessions. Mixing performance with documentary-style interviews, Nicholas introduced the BSO and online audiences to a wide variety of new repertoire, including numerous living composers as well as seldom-performed historical composers. “His commitment to performing works by composers of color,” described BSO leadership, “will continue to inform the BSO’s programming long into the future.”

Highlights of the 2021-22 season include engagements with the NY Philharmonic, Sarasota Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic, Portland Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Tucson Symphony, Winston-Salem Symphony, and Peabody Opera. 

Nicholas appears regularly with the National Symphony Orchestra in concerts throughout Washington, D.C. He stepped in to replace an indisposed Yan Pascal Tortelier, on subscription, to great acclaim. Other guest conducting appearances include the Houston Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and New World Symphony. 

Nicholas is frequently in demand as an arranger and orchestrator, with commissions from orchestras around the globe for adaptations of everything from classical solo and chamber music to popular songs. His orchestration of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata Op. 69 will receive its premiere by the Philharmonie Zuidnederland in January 2022, while his symphonic arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody continues to see worldwide success as a viral YouTube hit. He also serves as arranger and editor for the James P. Johnson Orchestra Edition.

An avid educator, Nicholas has embraced the Young Persons Concert format as a crucial method for orchestras to serve their communities. From 2016-2020, he served as Artistic Director of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, and he continues to be a frequent collaborator and guest faculty at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Nicholas grew up in Evanston, Illinois and started his musical training as a cellist. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Stanford University and a Master’s Degree in Conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, studying with David Effron and Arthur Fagen. In 2011 and 2012, he was a Conducting Fellow with the prestigious American Academy of Conducting at Aspen, studying with mentors Robert Spano, Hugh Wolff, and Larry Rachleff, and has participated in masterclasses with Bernard Haitink and Michael Tilson Thomas. Nicholas is also a two-time recipient of the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award.

Nicholas lives in Philadelphia with his wife Caitlin and their two cats, and in his free time enjoys baking (and eating) sourdough bread.

Program

  • Johnson/Hersh: Charleston
  • Happy Town
  • Hot Air Balloons
  • Fluff
  • Lazy Daze
  • Mr. Lion
  • Colors Change

INTERMISSION

  • Gershwin/Hersh: Prelude No. 1
  • Dope Girl Magic
  • Stolen Fruit
  • Oak Tree
  • Where Do We All Go
  • Ellington/Jensen: Come Sunday
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